Issue 17-5 February 2, 2023


Cover photo © 2023 Jim Hartzell

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Corey Dennison. We have eight Blues music reviews for you this week including new music from Dyer Davis, Layla Zoe, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal, Travis Koester, Durham County Poets, Larry McCray, Joe Louis Walker and Spencer Mackenzie. Scroll down and check it out!


 Featured Interview – Corey Dennison 

imageIn 2016, Delmark Records released a self-titled album from the Corey Dennison Band. The record received much critical acclaim, including nominations for 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards in the New Artist Debut Album and the Sean Costello Rising Star categories. The album featured thirteen original songs, most written with band-mate Gerry Hundt. The following year brought a second album on Delmark, Night After Night, with more striking original songs and a handful of covers.

Two albums on one of the premier blues record labels, in addition to a killer band, had Dennison’s career rolling along. Playing live, Dennison captivated audiences with his fiery intensity and stinging guitar work. His powerful voice would ring out with equal amounts of grit and soul, marking him as a man with future.

And then,………nothing.

Six years ago, Dennison starting working out on a regular basis. At the same time, he found himself falling out of love with music. He vowed to get in shape, and rekindle his passion for music.

“How does one fall out of love for music? It has to do with the quality of music, and over-stimulating oneself with music. So I stopped listening to music for a week, only listening to Tibetan monks on a YouTube video as I worked out walking on the treadmill. The next week I put together a playlist for the elliptical machine that ranged from Motown to death metal. I love 80’s metal bands like Slayer, Kiss, and Iron Maiden. That helped me regain my love for music. There is so much good, old music out there. My six year old son has playlists with Bruno Mars, Rihanna, Ozzy Osbourne, James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic, and the Monkees. My daughter is the same. She is named after a Stevie Wonder song. It’s great when your four year old wants to hear “Crazy Train”. My oldest son is a semi-professional wrestler. I can teach him about James Brown, but I don’t know anything about Hulk Hogan. Never liked wrestling to this day, but my son is doing an amazing job.”

But Dennison could not escape the demons rattling around in his head, leading to a decision to “retire” from music for what ended up being a three year hiatus.

“I was done, couldn’t do it any more. It was necessary to let go of a lot of weight that I was carrying around for things I held myself responsible for. It felt so good to let it all go. There was too much negativity. Covid hit, everybody got hit differently, but I believe kids and musicians got hit harder than people realize. Musicians lost their minds. We went from being out there giving everything to, at the snap of your fingers, getting totally shut down. That sucked bad!

“Gerry Hundt is my band leader. He is one of the baddest musicians I have ever met. Gerry shines in all settings, whether playing for 10,000 people or playing for virtually no one, which we have done. I was so envious of him when Covid hit. Gerry does this amazing one man band thing that was perfect for streaming shows during the lockdown. I just couldn’t get into that, found it hard to connect with the camera.

“So I lost my mind, had a breakdown. That lead to me seeing a psychologist, who diagnosed me with bi-polar disorder. The first three medications they prescribed made me feel like a zombie. We finally found one that slowed the world down, gave me a chance to take a deep breath, leaving me wondering what I had been doing up to that point. So I spent three years hanging out with my kids. I also lost my heart. A lot of people don’t know what that means. My girlfriend moved to her sister’s place, and then she wasn’t here any more.

image“A lot of musicians died, friends of mine like Eddie Shaw, Walter Scott, Jimmy & Syl Johnson. The one that crossed the line was Angie Leon Smith, who was Carl Weathersby’s ride or die drummer for many years. I went to his visitation. There were no other musicians there, until Pooky Styx (Melvin Carlisle, another drummer) showed up. I was so mad that other musicians weren’t there. Maybe they were at his funeral in Chicago. Carl Weathersby, “Pops,” told me to let it go, that those moments show you who the real people are. We lost some other people like Marty Sammon that hit hard.

“The other thing that knocked me down was the day I got a call from my bass player, Aaron Whittier. He wanted to quit the band. I begged him not to. My heart dropped. I told him that if it was a money thing, I would give him what I was making. Aaron was worried about the pandemic, and he didn’t know what to do. He just couldn’t do it. From there, it was a downward spiral.”

Eventually Dennison started feeling the urge to make some music. He connected with a couple of guys, and they did several shows that did not quite live up to his standards. But the music was calling him home.

“I finally realized that I couldn’t let all of my friends, from Tyrone Davis to Marty Sammons, go like this. They taught me too much. It is time for me to go back to work. I got ahold of Gerry, told him to fire up the website, let’s go back to work. It would be nice if it was a turnkey operation, where you walk in and start things up. I built up my career over 35 years, then lost it overnight. It took three years to wake up, and say I was ready to work. I’m playing for myself now. I make music that makes me happy. I’m doing the jam night at LeRoy’s Hot Stuff in Porter, IN on Sunday nights. We have had plenty of cool guests, making that an uplifting experience. This has been my rebirth.”

Then Dennison reformed his band with Hundt on guitar, Whittier back in the fold on bass, and Rick King on drums. He also made the decision to flesh out the sound with an organ player, often using either Anthony Space or Daniel Souvigny, a member of Joanna Connor and Buddy Guy’s band.

Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1975, Dennison’s family moved around quite a bit, with stops in Georgia, a brief stay in Florida, and finally settling in Chesterton, Indiana, where he remembers getting a Michael Jackson Thriller jacket for Christmas. After his father was killed in an auto accident, his mother’s friend rescued them from homelessness.

“We lived with her for a few years until my Mom got her house in South Haven, IN when I was a sophomore in high school. My Dad worked construction with my uncles. They moved around to work on big projects, going where the money was. My Dad was killed in an accident in 1985 during the construction on the Klein Avenue Bypass heading into Chicago from Indiana.”

“We were coming home from a gig one night. My cousin, who was Carl’s road manager, was driving. I told him not to take Klein Avenue, that I hate that road. Then I fell asleep. When I woke up, we were on Klein Avenue. I got pretty upset. Carl asked me why I was so upset about that road, so I told him. Carl was surprised. He told me that he had been driving to work that day at US Steel. When he saw the accident, he ran over to help pull bodies from the wreckage. One of them was probably my Dad.

Carl had stuck around to talk with the wives of some of the people killed. When he first met my mother, he thought she looked familiar, but he couldn’t place her. Years later I am playing guitar in Carl’s band. It’s a strange world.”

imageDennison’s love of music springs from his maternal grandmother’s passion for gospel music as well as Elvis and the Statler Brothers, while his mother was a child of the 1960s decade, listening to a wide variety of music that her son soaked up as it played in the house. He also had an uncle who had plenty of records to play.

“My grandmother use to own a couple of beauty salons. I would hang out there, where the music would be playing all day long, Motown and Top 40 stuff. Blues music didn’t come along until later. It just kind of found me through a couple of records in my uncle’s collection. The first one that I liked was The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions. The cartoon-like cover appealed to me. One listen and I was like, holy shit, what is that? I wanted more of that, so I looked through more albums, but didn’t find any more with that sound. So I started doing some research.

“Through the local library, I found a copy of the Freddie King greatest hits album. It had a yellow cover. I was introduced to Albert King by my uncle, who was a harmonica player. He would play at a club called Bugsy’s in Highlands. He would sneak me in, and I got to see Albert King several times before he passed. One day I went to my uncle’s house. There was this huge titan of a man sitting at the breakfast table. I asked him where my uncle was, and he replied, went to the gas station.

“I went downstairs and started practicing. Later, my uncle said it was time to go. We went to Bugsy’s, and that giant man was on stage. It was Albert. I didn’t know what he looked like, as they didn’t always have pictures on a lot of album. He was a friend of my uncle. I had heard his records but didn’t know how important he was. My uncle was also knew Big Daddy Kinsey. I had a really blessed childhood, as a lot of the cats I know today are people I listened to when I was a kid.”

Getting a toy plastic guitar as a present from his grandmother after a trip to Mexico, Dennison fooled around with it starting at age five. Then at the age of nine, he started learning how to play in earnest, his Uncle Wade teaching him his first real guitar chord and song.

“ I had never had a real lesson until Covid. I am a big fan of Jon Cleary and The Absolute Monster Gentlemen. I noticed on Facebook that his guitar player, Derwin “Big D” Perkins, was offering to do guitar lessons if anyone was interested. I messaged him, and we set up a time for a FaceTime call. It started at 5 pm, and ended at midnight. We played a bit and talked a lot. I sent him more money than he was asking for. I got more out of that lesson than he realized.”

Anyone who has heard Dennison walks away knowing that he has an abiding passion for blues music. But listen closely, especially to his vocals, and you will come to appreciate how soul music has added layers of rich texture to his musical artistry.

“I stumbled upon soul music. I remember hearing “My Girl” by the Temptations, and Curtis Mayfield for the first time. They grabbed me, made me stop, slow down, and take a breath. That’s where my heart lies. When I started playing for Carl, that is when I really dug deep. Carl loves soul music. Once we were playing a gig in Philadelphia. I asked him why we weren’t playing more blues songs. He said, we are in Philadelphia, it’s a soul town. Everywhere we go, we will change it. Pay attention. It wasn’t always as hardcore blues with him all the time as people might think. When we went down south, we did more soul oriented sets. In Chicago, we would fire on every cylinder.

“Traveling with him, or through phone calls at home, he would hit me with stuff. Hey, you need to listen to Isaac Hayes. Ok, which song? He’d say, Isaac Hayes. In those days, it was Napster. I would download every album I could find by Isaac. Playing with Carl turned me on to a whole different world of soul music. I got to meet and play with artists like Tyrone Davis, Otis Clay, and Syl Johnson. They didn’t know it, but those experiences were shaping and molding me into who I am. These days I tell the younger kids today that they will never get the experience and education that I got. I feel terrible about it. I guess it is my turn to give them that education, but a lot of the young kids don’t listen. I was truly blessed.

“Paul Hendricks was Carl’s old guitar player. We were good friends. We also had a mutual friend, who right before he died, told Paul, ”Corey’s got it in him. You have to help him find it.” Kirby was a cool old dude. My song “Phone Keeps Ringing” is about him. A lot of folks think it is about my dad, but it is about Kirby. So Paul gave me a lot of stuff to listen to, including some of Carl’s stuff. It was cool stuff. I had already been in a couple bands at that point. Then around 1999, Paul invited me to the Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora, IL. That was when I met Carl. He came out on stage in a cream colored suit with a black shirt. I fell madly in love. I had a bromance moment. I told my girlfriend at the time that I was going to play guitar for that guy.

image“Carl’s voice overwhelmed me. I feel peoples’ energy & vibes. It felt like I needed to be around the guy. So I chased Carl for several years. I would get asked to sit in with him, but I would always beg off. One night I saw he was playing at Legends, so I decided to go. When Carl asked me me to sit in, I decided to do it, and played all night long. He tried to pay me at the end! I refused to take the money. He did something for me that no one else could do. Then he asked for my phone number. The next night, he called and we talked for something like six hours. Then he offered me my first gig with him for the Toronto International Beaches Jazz festival. That was where I first met Gerry Hundt, who was with the Nick Moss band.”

“To me, a lot of music out there lacks that heart. That is what surprised me on my recent trip to Florida. (Dennison was part of the band backing Nora Jean Wallace at the 2022 Bradenton Blues Festival). I wasn’t expecting what I heard. Doug Deming is the shit! I was floored because those guys were playing the real stuff. Usually when we go somewhere, we go out to check out the scene, but often I quickly end up going back to the hotel or hitting up Planet Fitness. Then I find out that Florida has their own Joel Paterson and nobody told me about him.

“In my view, no one of my generation of musicians is taking it to the next level. Omar Coleman is one of the baddest blues artists out there right now. He’s got it all – attitude, the sound, the songs, and he is a great harmonica player. He is groovy, and people dig it. Mike Wheeler is a force to reckon with. Guitarist Nate Manos is another name to remember. He has a unique voice that sounds amazing. I don’t know why he doesn’t have his own band.”

For equipment, the guitarist has a number of Gibson models in his collection, including a ES-335, and ES-345. The ES-335 has had the head stock broken about 20 times, but still feels like home. The sunburst ES-345 was ’64 reissue that he bought from fellow guitarist Linsey Alexander with the money Air France gave him for breaking the head-stock on his ES-335 while Dennison was flying to France to accept the 2016 Le Prix Blues Award for his first album on Delmark Records. The guitar now looks like it has been through WW II, definitely a guitar with stories. For amplification, Dennison uses a Quilter 101 Mini Head with a Laney Cub-212 cabinet.

“No pedals, just the cord, the amp, and the guitar in my hands. I call that combination “the truth”. I love the way it sounds, and it will be the sound I want to get on my new record. It has made me a better player. Gerry got me a reverb unit some time ago. It broke, so I have been playing dry for awhile. It has taught me how to really dial in a good sound, to learn the volume and tone knobs on the guitar, and to listen to a room to understand it’s reverb characteristics. I don’t play as loud as a result”

The band opened for Buddy Guy recently at Legends as part of Guy’s annual residency at the club. They also will be playing four festivals in Europe later in the year. Once they heard that Dennison was playing and available, the festival promoters all immediately sent offers for appearances.

“I am very thankful that they didn’t give up hope on us, and neither did the clubs. We just needed a vacation. We are building things back up. I have new songs on the way. There will be a new album eventually. I haven’t had a cigarette in ten months, so I have been retraining my voice on how to sing. I have been listening to soul singers plus a lot of newer R&B vocalists. I noticed that many of those artists are doing singles, not doing full albums. Gerry and I have been talking about doing something like that. Bottom line is that I love music. And I hope my fans understand that, along with the fact that I am not as crazy as I may look in some of the pictures you see!”

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

IMAGEDyer Davis – Dog Bites Back

WildRoots Records

13 tracks/56 minutes

Dyer Davis is only 22 years of age. With his debut album for the WildRoots Records label he delivers a truly memorable set of new tunes penned by him and the band members on the album. He blends blues, rock and soul while singing with deep feeling and playing some seriously nice guitar.

Davis’ bio says he spent eight years a a rocker, so he obviously started very young and early. Influenced by his father who fed him 1960’s and 1970’s music, he gravitated to the blues-ier side of things with Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart instilling blues rock into his soul. There really is a throwback feeling to many of these tracks that put me in my old musical comfort zone of early, harder blues rock from my youth.

Dyer impressed WildRoots Record producers Billy Chapin and Stephen Dees and was invited to appear on the well-done album WildRoots Session Volume 2 in 2021. He was then invited to produce his own album with a superb cast of WildRoots “family” musicians.

The core trio here is Davis on vocals and guitars, David Weatherspoon on drums and Jacob Barone on bass.  Victor Wainwright adds piano to a trio of cut and shares the lead vocals on a song. Stephen Dees shares in the bass guitar work, adds rhythm guitar and keys to a track on each, backing vocals on two cuts and adds percussion. Billy Chapin also adds rhythm guitar to four songs, slide to another, and organ or keys to seven other tracks. Patricia Anne Dees plays tenor sax and flute on a couple of cuts and also adds her backing vocals to those songs. Lastly, Billy Dean lays  drums on six tracks.

Special guest abound. Stan Lynch (drums), Mark Early (baritone sax), Doug Woolverton (trumpet), Joe Young (trumpet) Dave Mikeal (pianos), and Walter Andrews (dobro) all do an outstanding job in support of this outstanding album. The WildRoots folks always do a a super job producing great music and have great regular and guest musicians on their album.

“Let Me Love You” opens the album. It’s a very cool rocking blues that opens with just vocals and guitars before getting into a driving and vibrant groove.  Davis sings with passion and plays some wicked guitar, something he does throughout this album. It’s got a 1970’s blues rock vibe that seems to be the theme for the CD.  Wainwright and Davis trade some licks on piano and guitar and set a great tone for their new album. Next is “Walk Away My Blues,” a sweet midtempo shuffle with more fine guitar and piano work. Davis again impresses with some stellar vocal work. A slower piece follows entitled “Water Into Wine” where Davis  pays homage to the Lord. I first listened to this with my wife and she and I simultaneously said the overall sound of the musical part of the cut reminded us a little of “Can’t Find My Way Home.”  Davis sings with reverence and emotion here where he and his base trio lay out some fine work to enjoy. “Cryin’ Shame” is a song about broken relations with a somber feel to it. Restrained guitar and emotive vocals build a bit as we go along; it’s another fine, new song. Joe Young adds trumpet here and the next track to good effect.

“Train Wreck” featured really passionate vocals by Davis and a great rocking vibe overall. “Lifting Up My Soul” is an uplifting and soulful song delivered with feeling. Davis sings about his love getting hm through the foibles of the world. Patricia Dees adds some beautiful backing vocals to the track and Davis picks out some equally fine licks delivered with nice pacing and feeling. Victor Wainwright shares the lead vocals on “Long Way To Go.” It’s a song about the Old Testament Patriarchs who fought adversity and took the long term in their walk through life to overcome that adversity. They make comparisons to today where societally we still have a long way to go. Wainwright plays some vibrant stuff on piano as does Davis on guitar.

Next we have “Wind Is Gonna Change” with Walter Andrews adding dobro. It’s a pretty duo that he and Davis begin. Drums and percussion get added as does Chapin’s slide guitar and a little bass. Well done! The title track follows that.  This cut is about a worker fighting back from being treated like a dog; Davis sings and plays with great emotion about standing up for what’s right and warns his boss about just what the title says.

“Angels Get The Blues” has some pretty piano by Dave Mikeal; this one’s a great and simple cut with vocals and piano up front that comes off very well. It reminds me a little of the style of Elton John. A little past the midpoint we get a pretty guitar solo added and there is a nice organ thread in the back supporting the cut nicely, giving it a bit of a churchy feel.

“These Walls” has Chapin on keys in a cut that has a ‘70’s vibe again. A little funk, a little rock, and a little blues that all mixes up well. Doug Woolverton’s trumpet also helps make this cool as Davis sings and plays with feeling and the organ again adds a beautiful vibe to the piece. “Don’t Tell My Mother” is a an updated, rootsy sort of cut as Davis instructs the listener not to upset his mother to inform her of his passing. Mikeal is on Wurlitzer piano and there is some fun percussive stuff, too.

The final track is “AKA” where Davis tells us how some folks perceive him as a bad fellow (or as he says, a “lost cause”). He plays some stinging guitar and again sings emotionally as he tells us he’s changed. A slow tempo song, Davis delivers another winner as he sings and plays with true feeling. Dees again adds some nice backing vocals to take us home along with Davis.

This is an exceptional album. The first time through I thought what a fine soulful blues rock CD it was. The second time through I was even more impressed and with each listen I hear more and more that tells me this is a really great piece of work.  I most highly recommend it and I have a feeling that folks will take notice of this album when the next sets of awards start coming out – it really is a superb album!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

imageLayla Zoe – The World Could Change

Cable Car Records

12 tracks – 72 minutes

Vancouver, British Columbia native Layla Zoe is an internationally recognized blues vocalist. She got her start as a teen singing for her father’s blues band and followed that with a stint with another local band. She then relocated to Toronto where she released her first album, Shades of Blue, in 2006. That same year she won a songwriting contest in Finland. That gained attention from German guitarist Henrik Freischlader, who is also the owner of Cable Car Records. The two collaborated on her 2013 album, The Lily, which gained international acclaim and was selected by Downbeat magazine as one of the best albums of the year. That attention led Ruf Records to select Layla as one of the three performers in their 2016 Blues Caravan along with Ina Forsman and Tasha Taylor.

Layla has released several other solo records before and after The Lily. But now in 2023, she and Henrik have collaborated on a follow-up album. Henrik produced, the album, and plays guitar, drums and bass. Moritz Fuhrhop  adds organ to the sound. The songs contain all original lyrics written by Layla with Henrik composing the music that fits the songs. Her lyrics are deeply extensive stories, not the simple repetitive structures that accompanies so many pop songs. Layla’s voice ranges from the overly dynamic to a soft whisper over the course of the album.

Layla chastises her lover for having a “Dark Heart” noting he is “Building your castles of broken beer bottles. Wife beater t-shirts and rock and roll battles.” A pounding beat drives Layla’s explosive vocals.

Lyla starts softly and builds to a roar as she tells the story of “Honey Pie”, a young girl with a bright future but concludes with the spoken lines “In the world of dreams I listen to you, and hear your deep concerns, about a planet of mice not men, who hide among their words.”

Layle softens her voice for a gospel-like ballad on “Praying Kind” as she pleads to the Lord “I am falling apart; won’t you ease my bad dreams. Lord, won’t you show me, and give me peace.”

On “The World Could Change” she expresses concern over the changes in the world noting “These old men should be ashamed.” But she declares that we must light “A flame to disable their plans”

The theme of the title song is extended in “Man Behind the Curtain” who is “…cooking something for you”. “Roasting in his fire, gorging on your greed. Getting fat on your selfishness. You are what you eat. Losing faith in loneliness. So drunk on your knees.” And she finally asks, “Will you stand and light a torch, or will you be condemned.”

“Brother” is another soft, evidently personal ballad citing “I heard the news last night that you were gone. Brother Henry can you forgive me.  I Wasn’t there when you needed me.”

On “Watch What You’re Doing” Layla continues to express her concerns, erupting with emotion and calling for everyone to stand up as she declares “Trapped in your emotions, drowning in the news. Only you have the power. You can always choose! Are you so tired, you can’t see the end.”

Similar to the message in John Lennon’s “Imagine”, Layla is looking for a way forward for mankind in “The Truth Song”. She sees the positive “In solidarity. Worshipping the light of God. And loving each other, no matter what our difference.”

“Baby Bird” is another soft ballad as she remembers a child that has let her nest and expresses her love, her remorse in having the child leave, and begs forgiveness.

Henrik’s guitar work is a standout on “Jasmine” as Layla tells the tale of a lonely girl that is on a constant move “cause life is a ball”.

The opening run of Henrik’s guitar on “We’re All the Same” sounds like a lick from Walter Trout. Layla states that “I got stories I can tell you of heartache, fear and pain. But you’ve got stories like mine. In the end we’re all the same.”

The album ends with Herink fingerpicking an acoustic guitar on the ballad “Shine Brightly”. The song shifts the sentiment so freely expressed in the earlier songs from one of anxiety or despair of world condition or personal issues to one finding the hope that each of us can have in our everyday proceedings.

Throughout, Layla’s lyrics are standouts certainly warranting close review and attendance to their messages. Layla’s voice on the ballads is particularly appealing and draws you in. But on the harder blues rock songs, her voice is sometimes absolutely explosive and perhaps overly emotive. Henrik’s guitar works well providing appropriate accents in her songs, but somehow many of the harder blues rock songs have a certain sameness to the sound that seem to lack some additional instrumentation that the lyrics demand.

Writer John Sacksteder is a retired civil engineer in Louisville, Kentucky who has a lifelong love of music, particularly the blues. He is currently the Editor of the Kentuckiana Blues Society’s monthly newsletter.


 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

imageJosh Hoyer & Soul Colossal – Green Light


10 songs – 44 minutes

Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal have been around since 2012, purveying a distinctive brand of soul and R&B across five studio and three live releases. Their new release, Green Light, contains 10 tracks, all written by singer/keyboardist Hoyer during the COVID-19 pandemic when the band were unable to tour.

Hoyer also produced the album, which was recorded mostly live over a single 48-hour period at Denver’s Mighty Fine Studio. John Macy recorded the original performances, with mixing by James Fleege at Silver Street Studios in Ashland, Nebraska and mastering by Doug Van Sloun at Focus Mastering. Together, they have captured a warm, vibrant sound that underscores the warmth of the music.

Soul Colossal are an impressive band. Featuring Hoyer on Hammond B3, Wurlitzer, piano and baritone saxophone, Benjamin Kushner on guitar, Mike Keeling on bass, Harrison ElDorado on drums, Blake DeForest on trumpet, James Cuato on tenor saxophone, Myles Jasnowski on backing vocals, there is a relaxed tightness of groove that reflects both the number of years the band has been together and the average of 125 shows a year in that period. Hoyer sings with a muscular, weather voice over the horn-infused numbers that sit very clearly in the mid-Western soul category rather than blues, although obviously all the great soul songs are deeply informed by the blues.

Lyrically, Hoyer addresses the environment (in “Harmony”), the current fraught political situation in the USA (in “Beautiful People” and “Mr. One Up”) and more traditional matters of the heart in songs like the funky title track.

Musically, these are top-tapping, dancing songs, often with clever, subtle twists that never interfere with essential momentum of the track but which do emphasize the assurance of the musicians. There are excellent solos throughout the set, in particular Kushner’s guitar turn on “Green Light”, guest Skye Junginger’s saxophone on the fade out of “Crazy Love” and DeForest’s trumpet on “Mr. One Up”, but primarily Green Light puts the spotlight on the songs not the soloists.

The interaction between the musicians is a joy to listen to. On a track like “Beautiful People”, Kushner’s tidy rhythm guitar fits perfectly with the horn stabs and riffs, but there is never a sense of too much going on. No musical toes were trodden on in the making of this record.

If your tastes extend to soul and R&B, you will find much to enjoy in Green Light.

Reviewer Rhys “Lightnin'” Williams plays guitar in a blues band based in Cambridge, England. He also has a day gig as a lawyer.


 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

imageTravis Koester – Alberta’s Blues

Self-Release – 2022

10 tracks – 28 minutes

Lincoln, Nebraska native Travis Koester is a self-taught guitar player, first picking up the instrument 30 years ago. Travis cites that as a teen his first connection to the blues was when a friend handed him a copy of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s The Sky Is Crying. He was blown away by the sound and immediately started buying all kinds of blues albums to begin his study of the music.  He spent his days sitting in his room listening and trying to play along with the cassettes and cd’s. He developed a deep love for Elmore James leading him to learn slide guitar.

Lincoln is home of the Zoo Bar, which regularly features blues performers. Magic Slim and Nick Holt lived in Lincoln and were regular performers. The two would frequently sit in with the performers and certainly became an early influence on Travis. Travis cites Ryan Larsen who played with Travis in one of the bands, toured as a drummer with Nick Holt and John Primer, and now owns the Roots Music Shop in Lincoln as one who has been a great adviser to him over the years. He also lists Jimmy Thackeray and Lil Ed as performers he had connection with early on and influenced his guitar playing.

Travis has played in a number of bands over the years playing mostly blues/rock. His wife joined him in one band as their bass player and vocalist. The bands played strictly as regional acts at various festivals and events. He and his wife were also nominated by the Omaha and Arts Awards a few years ago for Best Americana album.

In early 2022, Travis released an album Out with the Old. As the title implies, the album provides songs that he performed over the years. Travis said “I can’t move forward if I keep looking back, one of the reasons I released Out with the Old. Folks around the Midwest and blues fans know who I am as they have either seen me play somewhere, heard my name, heard my music, and seen or heard my interviews or articles as I’ve grown up. As I’ve always said, bands can come and go but artists will keep making music. That’s what I’m trying to do. Sure, I have lots of influences and lots of experiences, but Alberta’s Blues is just me and my guitar doing what I do best, and I hope folks dig it.”

Travis is listed as a vocalist for past music, but as he states above, he is now focused on playing the blues on his guitar. The album is ten original solo instrumental songs he produced and plays all instruments on. He says he always enjoyed the instrumental stuff that Thackeray and Magic Slim did and plans to go that route with his future solo stuff.

The album opens with the bouncy “Pichle Ballin’ ” That is followed by the title song, a slide guitar strut with a drum beat back up. “Possession” has a surf guitar feel with tremolo effect. “Thor Hate Love” is a blues rock number. “Jumpin’ For Jay” offers another upbeat song with a jazzy guitar hop.  “A Thousand Years” features a slow acoustic slide. “Ghosted” rocks out with a haunting rhythm. On “Trollin’ ” Travis slips into an electric slide guitar with an opening Spanish guitar feel.  “Combustion” lives up to its name as his guitar blazes through the song. He ends the album with another bouncy song, “Stop Flirting”.

A friend that listened to the album with me said it sounded like some of Ronnie Earl’s early material. Certainly, a reasonable comparison.  And yes Travis, I can dig it. It is a fun listen.

Writer John Sacksteder is a retired civil engineer in Louisville, Kentucky who has a lifelong love of music, particularly the blues. He is currently the Editor of the Kentuckiana Blues Society’s monthly newsletter.

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

IMAGEDurham County Poets – Out of the Woods


CD: 12 Songs, 56 Minutes

Styles: Classic Electric Blues, Ensemble Blues, Jump/Swing Blues

What is art? That’s a question for the ages, and Mitch Melnick of Billy Bob Productions has answered it better than I ever could: “Art isn’t just the turn of a phrase, reaching for a note, digging deep within or discovering the majesty of a brush. It’s a way of life. A higher calling. For many, the most spiritual moments in life – other than life itself – occur not necessarily in a house of worship (whatever gets you through the night) but in a house of blues.”

Canada’s Durham County Poets demonstrate this definition of art superbly on their fifth album, Out of the Woods. It’s a collection of twelve tracks with a big band sound and a collective message of hope and emergence from the darkness. “We ain’t all yet out of the woods,” explains lead singer Kevin Harvey, “but, hang on now, just a little bit longer. It’ll be okay tomorrow.” With many experts saying we’re still in a pandemic state, isn’t this what we all need to hear? The Poets don’t only provide nearly an hour of solid entertainment. They lift our spirits, reassure us, and prove that the purpose of the blues is to alleviate them instead of make them worse. That’s why we listen. That’s why we care. That’s why this genre must be preserved for all time.

With David Whyte on guitar, Carl Rufh on bass, Neil Elsmore on guitar, and Rob Couture on drums, this band soothes and excites at the same time – a difficult feat to achieve. Consider  “Together in the Groove,” the second song, “Love’s Got a Hold on Me,” and “Good Kind of Crazy.” They’re upbeat and positive, yet they don’t make listeners manic. Quite the opposite. They pep you up without driving you over the edge. Their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet,” however, is spot-on. When Harvey sings “I feel like my soul has turned into steel,” you know the feeling deep in your girding bones. “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” Fortunately, “What We Got Going On” and “That’s What Makes Me Smile” bring the sunshine right back.

Special guest stars include Bob Stagg on keyboards, Mark Leclerc on tenor saxophone, Patrice Luneau on baritone sax, Andy King on trumpet, Rob MacDonald on electric guitar, Jim Zeller on harmonica, and Karen Morand and Sonja Ball on background vocals.

True confession: I struggle with major depression. This is exactly the album I need to help me through my latest episode. The Durham County Poets know what it’s like to be in the thick of such a forlorn forest, but they know the way Out of the Woods. Let them show you, too.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 43 year old female Blues fan. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

imageLarry McCray – Blues Without You

Keeping The Blues Alive Records – 2022

12 tracks; 66 minutes

This album is one of the outstanding releases of 2022. Larry McCray came to prominence in the blues revival of the early 90’s, his debut album Ambition being the first release on Virgin’s Pointblank label. After several well received albums Larry moved away from mainstream labels, releasing a few albums himself, but in recent years he had rather disappeared from sight, until Joe Bonamassa took him into the KTBA fold to produce this album. Backed by a rhythm section of Travis Carlton on bass and Lemar Carter on drums, Reese Wynans on keys and both Joe B and fellow producer Josh Smith adding rhythm guitar, this is a great team, even more so when guitar aces Warren Haynes and Joanna Connor sit in. The horns of Steve Patrick and Jeff Bailey (trumpets), Mark Douthit (sax) and Barry Green (trombone) add to five tracks, strings appear on three cuts, accordion and harmonica are added to a track each and backing vocals throughout come from Jade MacRae and Danielle DeAndrea; on one track the rhythm section is replaced by Larry’s brother Steve on drums and Michael Rhodes on bass. Larry wrote all the songs bar an Albert King cover, collaborating with Peggy Smith on four songs, with Charlie Walmsley on two, Steve Gilbert, James Jabara and Aaron Sarkar on one each.

Many of the songs are quite personal, starting with Larry’s tribute to his birth state ‘Arkansas’: “I was born in Arkansas, come up eating hogs and baling straw. Sowing fields in mid-July, it was hot enough to make you fry. Way down South from Saginaw, I was born in Arkansas”. Played to a thumping beat and punctuated by the horns and gospel choir, it’s a joyous tribute and a great start to the album as Larry exudes confidence on both guitar and vocals. “Without Love It Doesn’t Matter” reminds you of classic Little Feat with thick bass and insistent piano giving the song a loose but funky feel that seems to inspire Larry to put in some dramatic guitar fills before another personal song “Good Die Young” which has a memorable line in the chorus: “They say the good die young, tell me why am I still here”, a funky tune with good horn accompaniment and fine backing vocals. “Down To The Bottom” allows us to appreciate just what a good singer Larry is, accompanied just by acoustic guitar before keys and strings are added on a soulful, gospel-fuelled ballad with another set of beautifully drafted lyrics that really hit the emotional spot; Warren Haynes adds soaring slide to a duet coda that tops the song off perfectly. The sultry horns and strings that open “Breaking News” make another contrast in styles before the tune develops into a rousing soul-funk outing that bemoans some of the problems currently faced by the country.

Larry pays tribute to Albert King, ably demonstrating his ability to bend the strings as Albert used to do on a grinding version of “Roadhouse Blues”, Larry’s soloing well supported by Reese’s organ work and rhythm guitar. “Drinkin’ Liquor And Chasin’ Women” sounds like a politically incorrect title and Larry admits that it has never done him any good, aided and abetted by Joanna Connor who joins in the guitar pyrotechnics, brilliantly supported by Reese’s honky-tonk piano stylings on a real foot-stomper of a tune. In complete contrast “Blues Without You” is a touching ballad dedicated to Larry’s late manager Paul Koch, the strings and Larry’s weeping guitar ideal for the subject matter.

“Mr Easy” is the name that Larry gives himself as he confesses that he does not like to stay in one place too long: “It’s hard to hit a movin’ target and that’s why this boy is gonna roam”. This is the longest cut on the album and that leaves room for co-producer Joe B to get a feature on guitar, sharing the solo spotlight with Larry as the pair duel above a horn-filled background. There are several emotional songs here, but surely none surpasses the deathbed statement of “No More Crying”: “Greener pastures where I’m going, I’m just one step away, though the memories live on cause in your heart is where I’ll stay”. If those lyrics don’t move you, just listen to the emotion in Larry’s vocals and solo.

To close the album Larry offers two songs played in very different styles. “Don’t Put Your Dreams To Bed” has positive lyrics about never giving up, played over a relentlessly funky tune: “My Mama told me when a dream is left undone it dries up like a raisin left out in the sun; we got to keep dreaming, we’re running out of time”. The backing vocalists are again spot on and Larry’s solo captures the feel of the song wonderfully well. Closer “I Play The Blues” is solo acoustic as Larry testifies that he “will play the sad blues…I’ll keep on doin’ it until the day I die”.

A quite superb album. Make sure that you buy it immediately!

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.

 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

imageJoe Louis Walker – Weight of the World

Forty Below Records FBR 030

10 songs – 48 minutes

A unique talent, Joe Louis Walker has never been comfortable restricting himself to one style the music for long, delivering everything from fiery blues-rock to mellow acoustic and everything in between. And he shifts gears frequently on this tasty CD, a highly personal, thought-provoking riff on themes that affect us all.

A six-time Blues Music Award winner with about three dozen albums to his credit, Walker is no stranger to pushing boundaries. While his most recent previous release, Eclectic Electric on Cleopatra, was an excursion in contemporary and soul-blues stylings, this one travels through the emotional wasteland left in our paths after COVID.

It’s a never-boring, silky-smooth package tied with a bow thanks to the 73-year-old San Francisco native’s exceptional guitar skills along with instantly recognizable vocal chops that infuse deep feeling in every measure of every song.

Eric Corne and Joe split writing duties (EC wrote 4, JLW wrote 5 and 1 co-write) on this one, which were captured at The Building in Marlboro, N.Y., not far from JLW’s adopted home in the Hudson River Valley. It was produced by Eric Corne, the mastermind who’s been in the studio with Sugaray Rayford, Walter Trout and John Mayall in recent years. Eric contributed the other tune, shares credit on another and also adds second guitar, percussion and backing vocals.

Walker plays electric, slide and nylon-string guitars throughout and contributes a little harmonica in a lineup that includes Scott Milici on keyboards, Geoff Murfitt on bass, John Medeiros Jr. on drums. They’re augmented by Eddie Jackson on bongos, Eric Gorfain on violin, Mark Pender on trumpet, David Ralicke on sax and Gia Ciambotti does background vocals.

“The Weight of the World,” which opens, is a funky slow-blues shuffle that describes how many of us feel today, living on the other side of the pandemic and finally “adjourned” from isolation. Despite the seeming victory, however, he observes that we’re still burdened with the aftereffects and he wonders whether we’ll learn from our past mistakes or “get in line for the last rotation” and “all burn until we finally adjourn.”

The pace quickens and a horn flourish brightens the open of “Is It a Matter of Time?” It swings atop a heavy two-four beat but expresses exasperation as he wonders if he’ll ever get to enjoy the fruits of he’s been promised in life, finally stating: “Time will tell, I’ve been told. But I don’t know if anybody knows what the future will hold.”

It yields to “Hello, It’s the Blues,” which opens as a quiet ballad with gospel overtones but slowly increases in pace and intensity. A gentle offering that allows the artform to speak its mind, it assures fans that it will always be a source of comfort no matter how tearful and dark the night. Things heat up via “Waking Up the Dead,” which opens with a second-line drumbeat, describes an encounter with the Devil and warns about his tricks, which – if you aren’t careful — will make hopes and dreams slip through your fingers and run down the drain.

The poignant “Don’t Walk Out That Door,” is up next with JLW announcing that if his lady starts packing, he’ll be the one running from their home, and he promises to emulate Daniel in the lion’s den in his efforts to right any wrongs. The funkified “Count Your Chickens” keeps the heat on high as the singer rebuffs an adversary who’s trying to mess with him before giving way “Blue Mirror,” an uptempo rocker that will have you bopping throughout.

“Root Down,” a keyboard- and harp-driven pleaser, finds Joe acknowledging that he’s paying the price for a life lived without planning for the future. It gives way to the stop-time “Bed of Roses,” about a farewell letter discovered under a pillow, before the jazzy closer, “You Got Me Whipped,” announces finally ready to accede to all of his lady’s demands to remain at her side.

One listen to this incisive treatise and you’ll agree with jazz great Herbie Hancock who calls Joe Louis Walker a national treasure. This just might be his best album ever – and that’s saying something!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

imageSpencer Mackenzie – Preach To My Soul

Gypsy Soul Records – 2022

10 tracks; 40 minutes

Still in his early twenties, this is Canadian Spencer Mackenzie’s third album since his debut release in 2016. A left-handed guitarist and singer, Spencer wrote most of these songs, mainly in collaboration with his father, Richard, and there are two covers, a Paul Simon tune and one by the far less well-known JJ Julius Son, lead singer of Icelandic band Kaleo. Recorded in Toronto, the core band is Spencer on guitar and vocals, Miles Evans on keys, Adam Cannon on drums and Steve Pelletier on bass (replaced on two tracks by Stacey Shopsowitz). Additional musicians include backing vocalist Chantal Williams, sax player Julian Nalli and trumpeter Stephen Dyte and producer Ross Hayes Citrullo who adds guitar to two songs; Steve Strongman guests on lead guitar on one cut.

The album includes some blues-rock material but also some gentler, more soulful pieces. Spencer’s vocals are good, flexible enough to cope with all the material here and his guitar leads are crisp, his rhythm work solid. A solid drum beat introduces the moody “Baptized By Cold Water” which chugs along well, aided by excellent backing vocals on the strong chorus, and featuring slashing guitar work, a good start to the album. “No Good” is the song by JJ Julius Son and it has a Delta feel with the prominent drum sound, surrounded by Spencer’s rhythm and lead work. The title track is a good example of Spencer’s more melodic approach, his guitar fills well supported by electric piano as he sings of his approach to making music: “For my inspiration, honey, I look to the sky and preach to my soul”. In contrast to the angst of that song, on the next one Spencer plays around with lyrics relating to our canine friends: “Commute my sentence, an early release, don’t treat me this bad, let me off your leash”. The solo here sounds angry, certainly making us understand that Spencer “Don’t Wanna Be Your Dog”!

“Test Drive” rocks along, driven by Spencer’s rapid-fire rhythm work as he extols the virtues of a girl who stays on his mind. “Can’t Do Right” is a funky shuffle credited solely to Spencer before the Paul Simon cover, “Paranoia Blues”, which features Steve Strongman. A stripped-back performance has slide and guitar jostling for our attention over another prominent drum beat, the slide adding a Delta feel which contrasts well with the twinkling piano. Horns embellish the mid-paced “Your Turn To Cry” which Spencer sings really well and underpins his vocals with some tasty, soaring lead lines. The pace drops for “Two Doves”, a gentle ballad with weeping dobro and choral vocals, a good contrast with the uptempo tunes before the album concludes with the anthemic “Battle From Within”, a standout cut for guitar lovers as Spencer plays some great lead lines as Ross takes on the rhythm duties. Lyrically it’s a strong song about knowing when to seek help: “I feel I’m falling, know it’s not a game. You’ve been there before and that’s why I’m calling”.

A good album with several strong songs and fine performances from all the musicians involved. Spencer’s previous album Cold November was also very listenable, but this one is a definite step forward.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.

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